תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

and that, in the concurrence of four canoni-, of our present narratives. The demand of cal narratives, we see a far more effectual the christian world was withdrawn from the argument for the miracles of the New Tes- less esteemed, to the more esteemed histotament, than in any number of those sepa-ries of our Saviour. The former ceased to rate and extraneous narratives, the want of be read, and copies of them would be no which is so much felt, and so much com-| longer transcribed or multiplied. We canplained of.

| not find the testimony we are in quest of, That the New Testament is not one, but not because it was never given, but because a collection of many testimonies, is what the early Christians, who were the most has been often said, and often acquiesced competent judges of that testimony, did in. Yet even after the argument is for- not think it worthy of being transmitted mally acceded to, its impression is unfelt; to uis. and on this subject there is a great and an But, though the number of narratives be obstinate delusion, which not only confirms necessarily limited by the nature of the subthe infidel in his disregard to Christianity,ject, there is no such limitation upon works but even veils the strength of the evidence of a moral, didactic, or explanatory kind. from its warmest admirers.

| Many such pieces have come down to us, There is a difference between a mere both from the apostles themselves, and from narrative and a work of speculation or mo- the earlier fathers of the church. Now, rality. The latter subjects embrace a wider though the object of these compositions is range, admit a greater variety of illustra- not to deliver any narrative of the Christion, and are quite endless in their applica- tian miracles, they may perhaps give us tion to the new cases that occur in the some occasional intimation of them. They everchanging history of human affairs. The may proceed upon their reality. We may subject of a narrative again admits of being gather either from incidental passages, or exhausted. It is limited by the number of from the general scope of the performance, actual events. True, you may expatiate that the miracles of Christ and his apostles upon the character or importance of these were recognised, and the divinity of our events, but, in so doing, you drop the office religion acknowledged, as founded upon of a pure historian, for that of the politi- these miracles. cian, or the moralist, or the divine. The The first piece of the kind with which evangelists give us a very chaste and per- we meet besides the writings of the New fect example of the pure narrative. They Testament, is an epistle ascribed to Barnanever appear in their own persons, or ar- bas, and, at all events, the production of a rest the progress of the history for a single man who lived in the days of the apostles. moment, by interposing their own wisdom, It consists of an exhortation to constancy or their own piety. A gospel is a bare re- in the Christian profession, a dissuasive lation of what has been said or done; and from Judaism, and other moral instructions. it is evident that, after a few good corapo- We shall only give a quotation of a single sitions of this kind, any future attempts clause from this work. “And he (i. e. our would be superfluous and uncalled for. Saviour) making great signs and prodigies

But, in point of fact, these attempts were to the people of the Jews, they neither bemade. It is to be supposed, that, after the lieved nor loved him." singular events of our Saviour's history, The next piece in the succession of Christhe curiosity of the public would be awa- tian writers, is the undoubted epistle of kened and there would be a demand for Clement, the bishop of Rome, to the church written accounts of such wonderful trans- of Corinth, and who, by the concurrent actions. These written accounts were ac- voice of all antiquity, is the same Clement cordingly brought forward. Even in the who is mentioned in the epistle to the Phiinterval of time between the ascension of lippians, as the fellow-labourer of Paul. It Our Saviour, and the publication of the is written in the name of the church of earliest Gospel, such written histories seem Rome, and the object of it is to compose to have been frequent. “Many," says St. certain dissensions which had arisen in the Luke, (and in this he is supported by the church of Corinth. It was out of his way testimony of subsequent writers,) "have to enter into any thing like a formal narrataken in hand to set forth in order a decla- tive of the miraculous facts which are to ration of these things.” Now what has been be found in the evangelical history. The the fate of all these performances ? Such subject of his epistle did not lead him to as might have been anticipated. They fell this; and besides the number and authority into disuse and oblivion. There is no evil of the narratives already published, renderdesign ascribed to the authors of them. ed an attempt of this kind altogether superThey may have been written with perfect fluous. Still, however, though a miracle integrity, and been useful for a short time, may not be formally announced, it may be and within a limited circle; but, as was brought in incidentally, or it may be proDatural, they all gave way to the superior ceeded upon, or assumed as the basis of an authority, and more complete information, I argument. We give one or two examples of this. In one part of his epistle, he illus- of every Christian, that a written expositrates the doctrine of our resurrection from tion of the argument was no longer neces the dead, by the change and progression of sary,-but as a motive to constancy in the natural appearances, and he ushers in this Christian profession, and as the great pillar illustration with the following sentence: of hope in our own immortality. We ac“Let us consider, my beloved, how the cordingly meet with the most free and conLord shows us our future resurrection per-fident allusions to this fact in the early petually, of which he made the Lord Jesus fathers. We meet with five intimations Christ the first fruits, by raising him from of this fact in the undoubted epistle of the dead." This incidental way of bring- Polycarp to the Philippians : a father ing in the fact of our Lord's resurrection, who had been educated by the apostles, appears to us the strongest possible form and conversed with many who had seen in which the testimony of Clement could Christ. have come down to us. It is brought for-1 It is quite unnecessary to exhibit passaward in the most confident and unembar- ges from the epistles of Ignatius to the rassed manner. He does not stop to con same effect, or to pursue the examination firm this fact by any strong asseveration, nor downwards through the series of written does he carry, in his manner of announcing testimonies. It is enough to announce it it, the most remote suspicion of its being as a general fact, that, in the very first age resisted by the incredulity of those to whom of the Christian church, the teachers of he is addressing himself. It wears the air this religion proceeded as confidently upon of an acknowledged truth, a thing under the reality of Christ's miracles and resurstood and acquiesced in by all parties in this rection in their addresses to the people, as correspondence. The direct narrative of the teachers of the present day: Or, in other the evangelists give us their original testi- words, that they were as little afraid of bemony to the miracles of the Gospel. The ing resisted by the incredulity of the peoartless and indirect allusions of the apos- ple, at a time when the evidence of the tolic fathers, give us not merely their faith facts was accessible to all, and habit and in this testimony, but the faith of the whole prejudice were against them, as we are of societies to which they write. They let us being resisted by the incredulity of an unsee, not merely that such a testimony was lettered multitude, who listen to us with all given, but that such a testimony was gene- the veneration of a hereditary faith. rally believed, and that too at a time when There are five apostolic fathers, and a the facts in question lay within the memory series of Christian writers who follow after of living witnesses.

them in rapid succession. To give an idea In another part, speaking of the apostles, to those who are not conversant in the study Clement says, that “receiving the com- of ecclesiastical antiquities, how well sus. mandments, and being filled with full certained the chain of testimony is from the tainty by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, first age of Christianity, we shall give a and confirmed by the word of God, with passage from a letter of Irenæus, preserved the assurance of the Holy Spirit, they went by Eusebius. We have no less than nine out announcing the advent of the kingdom compositions from different authors, which of God."

fill up the interval between him and Poly. It was no object in those days for a Chris-carp; and yet this is the way in which he tian writer to come over the miracles of speaks, in his old age, of the venerable Pothe New Testament, with the view of lend-lycarp, in a letter to Florinus. “I saw you, ing his formal and explicit testimony to when I was very young, in the Lower Asia them. This testimony had already been with Polycarp. For I better remember completed to the satisfaction of the whole the affairs of that time than those which Christian world. If much additional testi- have lately happened; the things which we mony has not been given, it is because it learn in our childhood growing up in the was not called for. But we ought to see, soul, and uniting themselves to it. Insothat every Christian writer, in the fact of much, that I can tell the place in which his being a Christian, in his expressed rey- the blessed Polycarp sat and taught, and erence for the books of the New Testa- his going out, and coming in, and the manment, and in his numerous allusions to ner of his life, and the form of his person, the leading points of the Gospel history, and his discourses to the people; and how has given as satisfying evidence to the he related his conversation with John, and truth of the Christian miracles, as if he others who had seen the Lord ; and how he had left behind him a copious and distinct related their sayings, and what he had narrative.

heard from them concerning the Lord, both Of all the miracles of the Gospel, it was concerning his miracles and his doctrines, to be supposed, that the resurrection of our as he had received them from the eye-witSaviour would be oftenest appealed to ; nesses of the Word of Life: all which Po not as an evidence of his being a teacher, lycarp related agreeably to the Scriptures. for that was a point so settled in the mind | These things I then, through the mercy of God towards me, diligently heard and at- cles of the Gospel. We see the most intended to, recording them not on paper, trepid remonstrance against errors of conbut upon my heart." in the undoubted faith they bore among the out of the materials which compose, if we numerous societies which they instituted. may be allowed the expression, the original

| duct, or discipline, or doctrine. This savours Now is the time to exhibit to full advan- strongly of upright and independent teachtage the argument which the different epis ers; but is it not a most striking circumtles of the New Testament afford. They stance, that among the severe reckonings are, in fact, so inany distinct and additional which St. Paul had with some of his testimonies. If the testimonies drawn from churches, he was never once called upon the writings of the Christian fathers are to school their doubts, or their suspicions, calculated to make any impression, then as to the reality of the Christian miracles? the testimonies of these epistles, where This is a point universally acquiesced in; there is no delusion, and no prejudice in and, from the general strain of these episthe mind of the inquirer, must make a tles, we collect, not merely the testimony greater impression. They are more ancient, of their authors, but the unsuspected testiand were held to be of greater authority mony of all to whom they addressed themby competent judges. They were held suf- selves. ficient by the men of those days who were And let it never be forgotten, that the nearer to the sources of evidence; and they Christians, who compose these churches, ought, therefore, to be held sufficient by us. were in every way well qualified to be arThe early persecuted Christians had too biters in this question. They had the first great an interest in the grounds of their authorities within their reach. The five faith, to make a light and superficial exa- hundred who, Paul says to them, had seen mination. We inay safely commit the de-our Saviour after his resurrection, could be cision to them; and the decision they have sought after; and, if not to be found, Paul made, is, that the authors of the different would have had his assertion to answer for. epistles in the New Testament, were In some cases, they were the first authoriworthier of their confidence, as witnesses ties themselves, and had therefore no conof the truth, than the authors of those com- firmation to go in search of. He appeals positions which were left out of the collec- to the miracles which had been wrought tion, and maintain, in our eye, the form of among them, and in this way he commits a separate testimony. By what unaccount- the question to their own experience. He able tendency is it, that we feel disposed to asserts this to the Galatians; and at the reverse this decision, and to repose more very time, too, that he is delivering against faith in the testimony of subsequent and them a most severe and irritating invective. less esteemed writers ? Is there any thing He intimates the same thing repeatedly to in the confidence given to Peter and Paul the Corinthians; and after he had put his by their contemporaries, which renders honesty to so severe a trial, does he betray them unworthy of ours? or, is the testimo- any insecurity as to his character and reny of their writings less valuable and less putation among them? So far from this, impressive, because the Christians of old that in arguing the general doctrine of the have received them as the best vouchers of resurrection from the dead, as the most eftheir faith?

fectual method of securing assent to it, he It gives us a far more satisfying impres- rests the main part of the argument upon sion than ever of the truth of our religion, their confidence in his fidelity as a witness. when, in addition to several distinct and in-“But if there be no resurrection from the dependent narratives of its history, we meet dead, then is Christ not risen.-Yea, and with a number of contemporaneous produc- we are found false witnesses of God, betions addressed to different societies, and all cause we have testified of God, that he proceeding upon the truth of that history, as raised up Christ, whom he raised not up, if an agreed and unquestionable point among so be that the dead rise not.” Where, we the different parties in the correspondence. ask, would have been the mighty charm of Had that history been a fabrication, in what this argument, if Paul's fidelity had been manner, we ask, would it have been fol- questioned; and how shall we account for lowed up by the subsequent compositions the free and intrepid manner in which he of those numerous agents in the work of advances it, if the miracles which he refers deception? How comes it, that they have to, as wrought among them, had been nulbetrayed no symptom of that insecurity lities of his own invention ? which it would have been so natural to feel For the truth of the Gospel history, we in their circumstances? Through the whole can appeal to one strong and unbroken of these epistles, we see nothing like the series of testimonies from the day of the awkward or embarrassed air of impostors. apostles. But the great strength of the eviWe see no anxiety, either to mend or to dence lies in that effulgence of testimony, confirm the history that had already been which enlightens this history at its comgiven. We see no contest which they might mencement-in the number of its original have been called upon to maintain with the witnesses in the distinct and independent Incredulity of their converts, as to the mira- | records which they left behind them, and

[ocr errors]

The concurrence of the apostolic fathers, charter of our faith, we can select a stronger and their immediate successors, forms a body of evidence than it is possible to form very strong and a very satisfying argu- out of the whole mass of subsequent testiment; but let it be further remembered, that I monies.

CHAPTER VI.
Remarks on the Argument from Prophecy.

VI. PROPHECY is another species of evi- fulfilled what was spoken by some of the dence to which Christianity professes an old prophets. If every event which enters abundant claim, and which can be estab-l into the Gospel had been under the conlished on evidence altogether distinct from troul of agents merely human, and friends the testimony of its supporters. The pre- to Christianity, then we might have had diction of what is future may not be de- reason to pronounce the whole history to livered in terms so clear and intelligible as be one continued process of artful and dethe history of what is past; and yet, in its signed accommodation to the Old Testaactual fulfilment, it may leave no doubt on ment prophecies. But the truth is, that the mind of the inquirer that it was a predic- many of the events pointed at in the Old tion, and that the event in question was in Testament, so far from being brought about the contemplation of him who uttered it. by the agency of Christians, were brought It may be easy to dispose of one isolated about in opposition to their most anxious prophecy, by ascribing it to accident; but wishes. Some of them were brought about when we observe a number of these pro- by the agency of their most decided enephecies, delivered in different ages, and all mies; and some of them, such as the dissobearing an application to the same events, lution of the Jewish state, and the dispersion or the same individual, it is difficult to resist of its people among all countries, were quite the impression that they were actuated by beyond the controul of the apostles and a knowledge superior to human.

their followers, and were effected by the inThe obscurity of the prophetical lan-tervention of a neutral party, which at the guage has been often complained of; but it time took no interest in the question, and is not so often attended to, that if the pro- which was a stranger to the prophecy, phecy which foretels an event were as clear though the unconscious instrument of its as the narrative which describes it, it would fulfilment. in many cases annihilate the argument. Lord Bolingbroke has carried the objecWere the history of any individual foretold tion so far, that he asserts Jesus Christ to in terms as explicit as it is in the power of have brought about his own death, by a narrative to make them, it might be com- series of wilful and preconcerted measures, petent for any usurper to set himself for- merely to give the disciples who came after ward, and in as far as it depended upon his him the triumph of an appeal to the old own agency, he might realize that history. prophecies. This is ridiculous enough; but He has no more to do than to take his lesson it serves to show with what facility an infrom the prophecy before him; but could fidel might have evaded the whole arguit be said that fulfilment like this carried ment, had these prophecies been free of all in it the evidence of any thing divine or that obscurity which is now so loudly commiraculous? If the prophecy of a Prince plained of. and a Saviour, in the Old Testament, were The best form, for the purposes of argudifferent from what they are, and delivered ment, in which a prophecy can be delivered, in the precise and intelligible terms of an ac- is to be so obscure, as to leave the event, or tual history; then every accomplishment rather its main circumstances, unintelligible which could be brought about by the agency before the fulfilment, and so clear as to be of those who understood the prophecy, and intelligible after it. It is easy to conceive were anxious for its verification, is lost to that this may be an attainable object; and the argument. It would be instantly said it is saying much for the argument as it that the agents in the transaction took their stands, that the happiest illustrations of this clue from the prophecy before them. It is clearness on the one hand, and this obscurity the way, in fact, in which infidels have at- on the other, are to be gathered from the tempted to evade the argument as it actually actual prophecies of the Old Testament. stands. In the New Testament, an event is It is not, however, by this part of the arsometimes said to happen, that it might be gument, that we expect to reclaim the enemy of our religion from his infidelity ; has left the Jewish people; of the strong not that the examination would not satisfy prejudices, even of the first disciples; of him, but that the examination will not be the manner in which these prejudices given. What a violence it would be of- i were dissipated, only by the accomplishfering to all his antipathies, were we to ment; and of their final conviction in the land him, at the outset of our discussions, import of these prophecies being at last so among the chapters of Daniel or Isaiah! strong, that it often forms their main arHe has too inveterate a contempt for the gument for the divinity of that new reliBible. He nauseates the whole subject too gion which they were commissioned to strongly to be prevailed upon to accom- publish to the world. Now, assuming, pany us to such an exercise. On such a what we still persist in asserting, and ask subject as this, there is no contract, no ap- to be tried upon, that an actual comparison proximation between us; and we therefore of the prophecies in the Old Testament, leave him with the assertion, (an assertion with their alleged fulfilment in the New, which he has no title to pronounce upon, will leave a conviction behind it, that there till after he has finished the very examina- is a real correspondence between them; tion in which we are most anxious to en- we see, in the great events of the new disgage him,) that in the numerous prophe-pensation brought about by the blind incies of the Old Testament, there is such a strumentality of prejudice and opposition, multitude of allusions to the events of the far more unambiguous characters of the New, as will give a strong impression to finger of God, than if every thing had hapthe mind of every inquirer, that the whole pened with the full concurrence and anforms one magnificent series of communi- ticipation of the different actors in this hiscations between the visible and the invisible tory. World; a great plan over which the unseen 'l'here is another essential part of the God presides in wisdom, and which, be- argument, which is much strengthened by ginning with the first ages of the world, is this obscurity. It is necessary to fix the still receiving new developements from date of the prophecies, or to establish, at every great step in the history of the spe- least, that the time of their publication was cies.

| antecedent to the events to which they refer. It is impossible to give a complete expo-Now, had these prophecies been delivered sition of this argument without an actual in terms so explicit, as to force the concurreference to the prophecies themselves; rence of the whole Jewish nation, the arand this we at present abstain from. But gument for their antiquity, would not have I can be conceived, that a prophecy, when come down in a form as satisfying, as that first announced, may be so obscure, as to in which it is actually exhibited. The De unintelligible in many of its circum- testimony of the Jews, to the date of their Stances; and yet may so far explain itself sacred writings, would have been refused by its accomplishment, as to carry along as an interested testimony. Whereas, to with it the most decisive evidence of its be-evade the argument as it stands, we must ing a prophecy. And the argument may admit a principle, which, in no question of De so far strengthened by the number, and ordinary criticism, would be suffered for a distance, and independence, of the different single moment to influence your underprophecies, all bearing an application to standing. We must conceive, that two We same individual and the same history, parties, at the very time that they were inas to leave no doubt on the mind of the fluenced by the strongest mutual hostility,

server, that the events in question were combined to support a fabrication; that In the actual contemplation of those who they have not violated this combination; uttered the prediction. If the terms of the that the numerous writers on both sides of prophecy were not comprehended, it at the question have not suffered the slightest tast takes off the suspicion of the event hint of this mysterious compact to escape being brought about by the controul or them; and that, though the Jews are galled agency of men who were interested in the incessantly by the triumphant tone of the accomplishment. If the prophecies of the Christian appeals to their own prophecies, Ud Testament are just invested in such a they have never been tempted to let out a degree of obscurity, as is enough to dis- secret, which would have brought the arkuise many of the leading circumstances gument of the Christians into disgrace, and from those who lived before the fulfilment, shown the world how falsehood and for

While they derive from the event an ex- gery mingled with their pretensions. planation satisfying to all who live after it, I in the rivalry which, from the very Luen, we say, the argument for the divinity commencement of our religion, has always of the whole is stronger, than if no such obtained between Jews and Christians, in ucurity had existed. In the history of the mutual animosities of Christian sects, Obecnrity had he New Testament, we see a natural and in the vast multiplication of copies of the consistent account of the delusion respect-Scriptures, in the distant and independent mg the Messiah, in which this obscurity societies which were scattered over 80

Consisto

« הקודםהמשך »